Let’s tell a story in today’s blog post. Our focus is on avoiding bad GIS asset management solution outcomes. We will use a hypothetical case study, based on true stories.
Avoiding Bad GIS Asset Management Solution Outcomes
Setting the Stage
In 2017 XYZ, LLC (a GIS consulting company) were approached by Smol Corp, a large private corporation with revenues of $100 to $500 million (USD) per year. They needed GIS asset management help. With limited in-house GIS expertise, they were being asked by clients for a GIS web-based app for asset management. The outcomes of these client requests were seen by the corporation also as a new potential revenue stream; maybe they could sell this focused solution to other clients? Further exploration was needed.
Chapter 1 – Initial Meeting
XYZ, LLC were contacted to help guide that ‘further exploration’ process. A meeting was set up at Smol’s head office. In attendance were 8 people from Smol and 2 XYZ staff members. a 2 hour meeting ensued. With no real agenda in place, a broad requirements discussion ensued; multiple application needs, detailed requirements, technical architecture and more. It became clear to XYZ staff as the meeting evolved, that structure and focus was needed. XYZ provided insight into GIS and how, at a high level, it might be used to solve these needs. But underlined a deeper dive was needed. At the meetings end, XYZ suggested that a planning and design initial phase (and contract) should be agreed to lay the ground-work for the project(s): a project blue-print. An exploration of the business case was also suggested given licensing questions which were raised.
Chapter 2 – The Cost Question
The day after the initial meeting, XYZ received a call from Smol: “How much might the project cost?” was the question. The surprised senior staff member tactfully responded: “That is a very difficult question to answer without, as we proposed, a deeper more focused dive into needs. Do you have any sense of your budgets?”. “No” was the response.
Chapter 3 – The Statement of Work
Three weeks after the initial meeting, Smol contacted XYZ to let them know they did not want to conduct a planning and design phase.
Chapter 4 – The Proposal & Cost Question 2
Eight weeks after the initial meeting Smol contacted XYZ and provided a statement of work. In response XYZ provided a high-level proposal and estimate on the work, which included a planning and design phase.
Chapter 5 – The Conclusion
Sixteen weeks after the initial meeting, Smol contacted XYZ to let them know that they had decided to build the project in-house.
Chapter 6 – Epilogue
The path followed by this story is nothing new. But it is interesting. Both Smol and XYZ made mistakes:
- Smol were ill prepared for the initial conversation. XYZ helped them understand that planning, focus and preparation were needed.
- Recognizing that Smol’s immediate need was understanding, design and planning help, that should have been XYZ’s discussion focus. They should have controlled and guided the initial meeting better.
- Credit to Smol for stepping back and building an SOW, but this did not remove the need for careful planning and design.
- XYZ should have provided more focus on educating Smol. GIS is complex. Successful outcomes require expertise and trust. Price should not be the primary driver of consultant-client conversations. Would you trust your health to the cheapest doctor you can find?
- Budget can often be a tricky conversation. But transparency here can help guide project discussions. Why discuss with a car dealer every car on the lot if you only have $2000 to spend, that wastes both parties time. Smol were not prepared to share (rough) budget information with XYZ, that should have been a red flag for this engagement.
A number of key points come out of this story:
- Solving asset management problems using GIS requires expertise.
- Extended conversations without structure and focus waste time and money
- Education, and understanding are key.
- Planning, and design are not ‘nice to have’s’.
- Open budget and cost discussions remove the barriers from project success discussions.
- Technical conversations often go hand-in-hand with business conversations. One without the other is highly problematic. This is often a key part of a planning phase.